#BusinessOfSport with...The Surf Company Owner
Surfing : #BusinessOfSport with Surf Berbere
James Bailey is the grand-fromage of Surf Berbere, a company he founded back in 2008. What started as an apartment with a roof terrace and a couple of bedrooms has now turned into a flourishing enterprise on the Moroccan West Coast. Just a short ride away from Agadir is Taghazout, a surfers paradise set in a friendly and buzzing little town.
We caught up with James to find out why he decided on a business based around one of the Worlds most popular pastimes.
The Sporting Blog: When you first came to Taghazout, it's fair to say the apartment you bought was a far cry from the complex you now have. What gave you a vision for the business? The surf? The country? the people?
James Bailey: To be honest there wasn’t a clear vision when we get going. Initially I just went out on a holiday having done a bit of research before the trip. The vision for the business has evolved over the years, sometimes out of necessity and sometimes from planning.
I guess before coming out, the fact that King Mohamed VI had made some very clear announcements and law changes with regards to encouraging foreign investment and tourism played a huge part. He is also a huge factor in the country remaining stable and experiencing steady economic growth through what has been a pretty tumultuous period for the region.
TSB: Why did you choose Morocco?
There were lots of reasons, but it was only once I was out there that I really saw the potential.
With regards to the surfing, being able take a 3 hours flight out on cheap airlines for year round sunshine (not just sunshine but 30 degree sunshine in December) and find yourself in a magical place unlike anything in Europe, plus the combination of a perfect set up for right hand point breaks made it an ideal destination.
TSB: How many times did you contemplate sacking it all off in those early days?
JB: Haha, the lowest points came generally after a run in with the infamous “Moroccan Tummy”. That and a run in with the local authorities over a planning application.
TSB: Surfing brings an eclectic mix of human beings together, who have some of your most 'colourful' guests been?
JB: We’ve been blessed to have seen some amazing people coming through our place and Taghazout in general. A highlight for me was checking in on my mum who was staying 5 minutes up the road from our camp on a holiday with a couple of her friends (coming out to see me and how I was getting on). I popped my head in to the apartment and my mum and her two friends were transfixed by the surfers out front. My mum has very little interest in surfing, so I came over to have a look, at which point she points over to the spot out front and says “the surfer in red looks to be a bit better than everyone else”. It was Kelly Slater.
On the other end of the spectrum, we had one beardy fellow stay on one of the roof terraces for nearly a month camping for 4 euros a night plus a couple of eggs for breaky. That was pretty early on, but we didn’t like to say no to anyone even if they couldn’t really afford to stay.
TSB: Was the social aspect of the surf camp on of the things that made the business an appealing idea?
JB: We try and do as much as we can on this, but there is always more that we can do. Some of the things we get involved in are from a selfish perspective, because we benefit from their improvement. The beach clean ups are a simple example, everyone benefits from having beautiful clean beaches, so when we did our first big beach clean up in the village, getting 3 lorries of rubbish was huge not just for the village, but also for us as it was our guests that were complaining about the state of the beaches.
Likewise, when we are investing in the local schools; these kids grow up and want to come and work for us as they know that we are trying to improve things. There’s an affection for the company in the village.
It isn’t always great for the bottom line, but it’s better to have the warm fuzzy feeling of helping out in a nice little community that really needs it, than having some more dollars in the bank account (at least that’s what I tell myself - not sure my wife agrees).
TSB: Who is your average guest? Is there such a thing?
JB: We get a real mix, but the majority of people coming through are not pro surfers, they are people wanting to learn to surf or just improve on their current level. We get lots of couples and solo travellers coming through, so again, no real niche that dominates!
TSB: What was the most crucial thing for your business to get right?
JB: Getting control of our costs, it is a constant battle! We are great at making sure people have a good time with us, but because we aren’t charging a huge amount of money for an all inclusive week, we have to be so careful about wasting money through stupid things and even in a small organisation with 25 employees, just losing a bit of oversight and things spiral so quickly.
TSB: Got any advice for people looking at starting a business in sport?
JB: It would be the same advice for anyone, start small and try and grow it. Having big and bold visions are great, but you need to know how to navigate your way there and sometimes you can’t take the most direct path. If you bet the house on your big vision at the start, you can come undone. If you start small you have a heap of opportunities to make it work one way or another.
TSB: Can you sum up working in Morocco in one sentence?
JB: Working and living in Morocco is a roller coaster experience of amazing highs and lows, but ultimately far more fulfilling than any other role I could have foreseen myself doing back in London.
TSB: Moroccan tajine or English Roast?
JB: Tough.... Going to go with Roast though!